While Deuteronomy 32 may seem antithetical to the picture of Jesus that most people have, it is actually consistent with Jesus in much of the New Testament, especially Revelation. God is love, but true love includes justice against wrongdoing and eventual total eradication of sin from the universe. God is the defender of the vulnerable all through Scripture, especially those who have been exploited and oppressed. Jesus makes similar statements, even in the gospels, about those who hurt children (Matt. 18:5–6). And yet, Jesus paid the penalty for even the worst sins ever committed, so that anyone who accepts His grace will be in heaven. This is the mind-boggling nature of the cross. The vengeance here shown against God’s enemies was ultimately poured out on Jesus, as He took it for us, so that we could be made righteous if we choose Him.
In verse 36, the NKJV reads, “For the Lord will judge His people and have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their power is gone,” but the ESV captures the meaning of the first verb more accurately for the context: “For the Lord will vindicate his people.” God is full of compassion, despite the litany of sins that the many previous verses document. And God will judge His people, but judgment in the Old Testament is almost always positive when it is for God’s people! It is a vindication of them, because they have accepted His grace and given Him their hearts. Judgment is good news, and the psalmists can’t stop talking about it. They look forward to the judgment, because they know that they have no hope on their own, but that they are judged by their walk with God, not by their righteous deeds, of which they have none (Psalm 51). God speaks life through His word, to change hearts and bring hope.
This passage also hearkens back to Deuteronomy 31, where Moses once again predicts the rebellion and debauchery of the people, but also plans that the song will be a witness and testimony to bring them back (vv. 19–21). And even in the midst of this, God gives Joshua hope and encouragement, saying multiple times to him: “Be strong and of good courage . . . the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed” (31:7, 8). This is the same message that God leaves with each one of us. God will vindicate His people, and while we are waiting for that wonderful final day of judgment on our behalf, He is walking with us, and will not leave us or forsake us. We can be strong and of good courage in our vindicating God.